The attention of the central media is still focused on the possibilities of the prolongation of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. Most observers regard such a development negatively. Practically all of them say that the epoch of Yeltsin is over, that he has done his business already by destroying the Communist system, and that now he should leave in accordance with his proclaimed democratic principles. However, the fuss surrounding this topic in various media proves that Russia’s path of development is far from a straight track towards true democracy, and anything is possible in the course of handing over power.

Therefore, it is no wonder that the activities of the “home politburo” remain an object of general attention.

Novaya Gazeta published a rating of “shadow influence” in its latest issue. The top three in this unique rating were Tatiana Dyachenko, Boris Berezovsky, and Roman Abramovich. They were followed by Anatoly Chubais, Valentin Yumashev, Gleb Pavlovsky, Mikhail Lesin, Rem Vyakhirev, Alexander Voloshin, and Vladimir Yevtushenkov. The newspaper expressed astonishment at the fact that nobody had tried to evaluate the hierarchy of the powers behind the throne until then: “In a country where politics are traditionally conducted in saunas, restrooms, and dachas, the balance of shadow forces is more important than their official reflection.”

Acknowledging the truth of this postulate on the whole, the weekly Itogi asserts that the 1996 presidential election entirely convinced the first family that nothing is impossible for those who can depend on shadow leaders. During the 1996 electoral campaign, the president’s circle realized that there are no hopeless candidates for president – only a shortage of money can prevent someone from obtaining power. To gain any goal it is only necessary “to give the proper order to the proper person.” Based on this conviction, the president’s circle is now deciding whether it is worthwhile to stake its hopes on Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin or whether it should tackle Aksenenko’s image so that he can be elected. But in the opinion of the weekly, the formula “the one at whom we point will reign” is mere self-deceit. The president’s team did not work miracles in the previous election, it only did not hinder a miracle from happening: “The victorious 54% of votes collected by Yeltsin in the second round of the election were not the result of Chubais’ subtlety or Berezovsky’s money, but of the scale of the personality of the first president of Russia, with his image as the destroyer of totalitarism, and the might that dwelt in him notwithstanding all of his illnesses and moments of mental aberration.”Hence the answer to the question of whether it is possible to make a mediocre official the leader of the whole nation “by Tanya’s will and Valya’s order” (Tanya is the diminutive for Tatiana Dyachenko, and Valya is the diminutive for Valentin Yumashev – translator’s note). It is high time the president’s circle understood that there is no good to make such a fuss, since Boris Yeltsin’s place after the 2000 election is in retirement at any rate, and they had better see to preserving his reputation as “the founder of free Russia”.

Liliya Shevtsova, a well-known political analyst, asserts in her interview to the newspaper Trud that the hysterical searches for an “heir” of the current president prove that the power system in Russia is far from democratic: “Russia’s main problem is not Yeltsin but the system he has created, all of us being hostages of this system. The essence of this system is the president’s omnipotence combined with his absence of responsibility for everything that he does.” Shevtsova calls this system “the president’s monarchy” and asserts that, if no political force appears in this country to reform this order, it will lead to an aggressive dictatorship. However, the Russian security structures will evidently refuse to support the first family if the situation develops in an anti-Constitutional way: “The continuation of stagnation and slow decay may bring a marginal force to power at any moment.” In the opinion of Shevtsova, Russia does not have many hopes for democratic development.

Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov expresses quite a different point of view in his interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda. Ayatskov holds that Boris Yeltsin’s time is over, but the fact that the president is choosing a successor does not seem to Ayatskov to contradict democratic norms: “A ship guided by several helmsmen will never reach its port of destination.” This statement indicates that the Saratov governor knows the ropes in terms of the political traditions of Russian society. It is obvious that a crew can easily find a helmsmen for itself independently.

It is noteworthy that Ayatskov is of the opinion that the successor has actually been found already: “I think that the president was not mistaken regarding the current prime minister. Sergei Vadimovich Stepashin has rich experience in practical administrative activities. He has worked in the Parliament, headed the Justice Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and the Interior Ministry, and has finally become the premier. I think the president used to send him to various hot spots because he was sure of his capabilities. There is no other politician in Russia with such a biography, and there will not be in the near future.”

Meanwhile, Stepashin’s political future is not being discussed so benignly by the media. Nezavisimaya Gazeta considers that, following the recent announcement by Presidential Administration Director Alexander Voloshin that the premier may well become president, Stepashin’s self esteem inflated greatly. Moreover, he has adopted the manner of the current president by “starting to openly blackmail the Duma by lobbying the bills that are needed by the government and the IMF.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta admits that most politicians estimate Stepashin’s chances highly. However, to obtain the Kremlin Stepashin needs not only the state’s support and the image of a public politician, but also the ability to become the center of the “party of power”, which is now split, partially due to Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov, the main dissident among those in power. The newspaper is sure that the government, together with the Presidential Administration, will able to spoil Luzhkov’s reputation. If the premier takes part in this campaign, his chances to gain leadership in the “party of power” will increase significantly. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Stepashin’s demeanor in this sphere will determine his destiny as Boris Yeltsin’s successor.

Kommersant-daily maintains the unambiguous position demonstrated in such titles of its articles as “A Good Start for the Presidential Campaign” (about Stepashin’s trip to Ingushetia) and “Stepashin Was Met As the President in Cologne”. In the first article the newspaper cites Duma Deputy Speaker Mikhail Gutseriev: “Let’s elect a young and well educated president who knows how to talk to generals and police officers, and who knows the North Caucasus!” In the second article it is written that the leaders of the G7 wanted to meet with Stepashin confidentially, since “he is considered in his motherland to be one of the candidates for president.” Meanwhile, the lugubrious example of the former premiers Chernomyrdin and Primakov shows what happens to those who feel presidential ambitions too early. In the opinion of the weekly Versia, this is what is happening to Stepashin at the moment: he is trying to play his own game by trying to oppose Senior Vice Premier Nikolai Aksenenko, the “first family’s minion”. Therefore, Stepashin’s premiership will not last long: “As soon as someone is declared the president’s successor, it begins to irritate Boris Yeltsin, and he dismisses the successor.” And with the appearance of a new premier, a new candidate for the throne will appear. In the opinion of Versia, this time it will be Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov: “The president’s team will not find a more docile official. He is an ideal executor, and he does not have any surreptitious plans of his own.” On the other hand, there is a hazard that, after becoming premier, Ivanov may also “experience a mental indisposition and refuse to be a marionette.” In short, the search for the ideal successor continues.

One of the most popular topics among journalists is the opposition between Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov and former premier Sergei Kirienko, who has opened a non-stop hotline of the Moscow Alternative Public political organization to take complaints about Luzhkov. All media agree that Kirienko’s running for mayor of Moscow is an original self-promotion stunt. However, the Kremlin’s support may considerably damage Kirienko’s position in his current campaign, as the weekly Kommersant-Vlast points out. Therefore, the former premier always stresses that, unlike the Kremlin “camarilla”, he is not against Luzhkov personally, he is only dissatisfied with the Moscow system of power, “which does not actually differ from the totalitarian system of Yeltsin.” Moskovskie Novosti published an interview with Sergei Kirienko with the title “Yeltsin Today Is Luzhkov Tomorrow”. The former premier highlights their ideological contradictions: “I am not competing for the mayoralty with Luzhkov. I am holding a principal dispute with him about the future of Russia. Our Moscow Alternative is quite simple. We will tell people what the Moscow system of power is and how it threatens the future of Moscow, Muscovites, and all Russia.”

Commenting on Kirienko’s attack against Yury Luzhkov, Vice Premier of the Moscow government Valery Shantsev noted in the same issue of Moskovskie Novosti: “Kirienko does not need public discussion with Luzhkov for the sake of solving Moscow’s problems. The thing is that Luzhkov is a prominent politician… In short, Kirienko’s image-makers are constructing his electoral campaign in the proper way.” According to Shantsev’s sources, Kirienko’s campaign is being managed by Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Efficient Politics Fund and a member of the electoral headquarters of the Presidential Administration. This means that the anti-Luzhkov campaign is being carried out by the very top of the Russian power hierarchy, which is obvious to all observers.

The journal Profile discloses the tactics to be used by Pavlovsky while managing Kirienko’s campaign: “Kirienko should persistently attack Luzhkov and torment him so that he cannot stand it any longer and begins to behave inappropriately in front of TV cameras.”

This goal was achieved in the first stage. According to Kirienko’s calculations published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “133 publications based on libel” appeared in Moscow newspapers after Kirienko’s first interview to Itogi in which he criticized the mayor of Moscow. New force, the movement led by Sergei Kirienko, is tallying up the most exotic insults addressed to Kirienko, such as “electoral virgin”, “snivel-chewer”, “little bastard”, etc. As for more constructive accusations, Kirienko’s team intends to refute them.

The main “constructive accusation” against Kirienko is certainly the August crisis. As Yabloko deputy Nikolai Travkin has told a Profile correspondent, “Nobody had robbed the people for the last several years the way Kirienko did on August 17, 1998.” There are also some more definite accusations against Kirienko. In the same issue of Profile, Deputy Chairman of the State Auditing Commission Yury Boldyrev recollects the Khanty-Mansi oil affair of 1996. The intermediary of the oil refinery was the firm NORSI-oil, which was led by Sergei Kirienko. The transaction was sponsored by the bank Garantiya, which was also headed by Kirienko. The transaction was sponsored with money of the Pension Fund. When the oil was refined, it turned out that NORSI-oil was unable to pay the debt to pensioners. The damage was 110 billion old rubles.

Oil still plays the leading role in Kirienko’s electoral campaign. The former premier controls Transneft through its President, Dmitry Savelyev, who is Kirienko’s protege. Profile asserts that Kirienko has people in Rosneft and Slavneft too. Moreover, Sibneft and the Sibirsky Aluminiy aluminum company also subsidize the former premier.

According to the sources of Vremya MN, Yury Luzhkov is also building his own “oil republic”. He is approaching fulfillment of his old dream of “creating a vertically integrated oil company of the full cycle, from wells to refueling stations.” Recently, 100% of the shares of the Central Fuel Company were handed over to the authorized capital of the Moscow Oil Company, in which Luzhkov heads the board of observers. According to Vremya MN, the Moscow Oil Company is a three-fourths private company: “It is very convenient to use this company as a fund for the electoral campaign of Fatherland, and it makes the search for investors for the development of oil supplies easier.” Now that companies such as Evikhon, Yugraneft, Sibir Energi, and Oka-oil have become shareholders of the Moscow Oil Company, the supplies controlled by the Moscow Oil Company amount to one billion tons of extractable oil in compact oil fields in Western Siberia. The company also possesses an up-to-date oil basis near Moscow and a plant which manufactures equipment for refueling stations in the town of Serpukhov in the Moscow Region.

In other words, the mayor of Moscow is fortifying his position and is seriously preparing for the “First Family Versus Luzhkov” campaign (the title of an article in Versia). And if Kirienko’s criticism of Luzhkov’s activities is not taken seriously by political analysts, the decision made by Dmitry Rogozin to discontinue the membership of the Congress of Russian Communities (CRC) in the Fatherland bloc may be a token of the beginning of the siege of Luzhkov’s fortress. The media have written that Rogozin is dissatisfied with Luzhkov’s probable alliance with the All Russia movement led by Tatarstan President Mentimer Shaimiev. Rogozin also does not like the fact that the mayoral election has been rescheduled. According to Vremya MN, Rogozin does not have any complaints that could have appeared recently: “Sources close to Mr. Rogozin indicate that nobody has offended him, nor have his powers been curtailed. Thus it is practically impossible to find a sensible reason for the CRC to leave Fatherland this week.” The newspaper draws attention to the simultaneousness of Rogozin’s announcement with the campaign started by Sergei Kirienko. “Of course, Dmitry Rogozin cannot be the Kremlin’s agent. However, we should not discount the possibility that the attacks against Yury Luzhkov by Rogozin and Kirienko indicate the beginning of a large war against the mayor of Moscow.”

Luzhkov has received an indirect warning right from the president’s circle. According to Kommersant-daily, Presidential Administration Director Alexander Voloshin handed Luzhkov Boris Yeltsin’s personal congratulations on the third anniversary of his election as Moscow mayor with wishes for “new achievements as mayor of Moscow”. In the message, the president supports Luzhkov’s intention to run in the mayoral election once again. Kommersant-daily states: “The hint is clear: be the mayor, and we’ll be friends, but don’t run for president.” Thus, the congratulation was for Luzhkov “a sign of subtle harassment by the Kremlin”.

The recent story of Luzhkov being refused a helicopter to examine fields of the Moscow Region is of the same nature. Vremya MN notes in this connection: “A Moscow national hero is being made of Yury Luzhkov. The Kremlin is indulging itself in electoral scenarios, but it has forgotten to put data in its computer about the average Muscovite, who, having had his dinner, will definitely begin to defend someone whom the Kremlin pursues.”

Meanwhile, the coalition of democratic forces known as Right Cause has announced its readiness to cooperate with Luzhkov’s Fatherland. Nezavisimaya Gazeta calls this decision strange: “Not longer than a week and a half ago, the leaders of Right Cause announced that they would nominate their own candidate for mayor of Moscow and were throwing stones at Luzhkov’s economic policy.” However, after Kirienko’s demarche, “Yegor Gaidar, commenting on the fact that Sergei Kirienko is sure to run for mayor of Moscow, announced that Right Cause will try to prevent competition between two democratic candidates in elections. Judging from these announcements, it is fair to surmise that Right Cause intends to compete not with Luzhkov but with New Force leader Sergei Kirienko.” The newspaper also asserts that it is possible that “Anatoly Chubais, head of Russian Joint Energy Systems, may make an agreement with Yury Luzhkov, his old enemy, in order to fight the president’s team by offering the latter his services as a political manager.”

Interfax-Vremya also considers the problem of discord in the right-wing movement that appeared after Sergei Kirienko decided to run in the mayoral election in Moscow. The weekly calls Kirienko a dissenter: “Sergei Vladilenovich himself accounts for his behavior by the fact that radical right ideas are unpopular in society. His chances in the elections decrease when he confesses his friendship with Chubais, Gaidar, and others.” As Interfax-Vremya asserts, the affair has nearly developed into an open clash between Right Cause and Kirienko, since the leaders of Right Cause were about to nominate Yegor Gaidar for mayor of Moscow. After Kirienko’s announcement they had to repudiate their intention.” On the whole, the weekly considers the prospects of the right movement to be hopeless, noting that its only resource is Chubais’ organizational capabilities. The newspaper cites the words of a Duma deputy after the 1996 presidential election: “Even a donkey can become president if his electoral headquarters is led by Chubais!” Inasmuch as Right Cause means to fulfill an easier task, Chubais may succeed in it.

The central media are also paying much attention to the near future. Because of the upcoming Duma summer vacation, the topic of a “new Foros” has appeared in newspapers. Moskovsky Komsomolets says that “this brings with it some agreeable reminiscences of the sweet August of 1991, which may be compared with the prospects of this year.” Duma deputies feel ill at ease. Sergei Skurikhin, a deputy of the Duma Liberal Democratic faction, and Vice Speaker Sergei Baburin have announced that they will not wonder if “something happens in the country” while they are on vacation. Stepan Sulakshin, leader of the Russian Movement of Political Centrism, expressed almost the same opinion in his interview to Moskovskaya Pravda. He said, “What will stop the Kremlin from taking advantage of the absence of the Duma to hold a referendum on, say, the introduction of an economic state of emergency? Or the Kremlin may arrange a large-scale political provocation, and after that dissolve the opposition and forbid the activities of the Duma…”

Even Boris Yeltsin, according to Kommersant-daily, has finally admitted that there are some plans of non-Constitutional prolongation of his powers. He said, “Some want to let the matter rest… But order is order. The Constitution should be observed.” Meanwhile, Kommersant notes that these words were spoken at the meeting between the president and the heads of 19 regional legislative assemblies who traditionally make up the larger part of the anti-president opposition in the Federation Council. The newspaper notes that it was this part of the Federation Council that defined the result of the vote on General Prosecutor Yury Skuratov: “And Yeltsin must be aware that he cannot get any of his plans through the upper chamber without consulting them. Therefore, the mention of those who want ‘to let the matter rest’ is probably a mere test. And from now on the Kremlin will be waiting for a reaction.”